Any AFC North win is a great and it is even better win you get them on the road. I recapped the Steelers 24-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals last night and now have had time to go back over the game a few more times as I do every week and below are more of my in-depth observations from the game.
The Steelers won the toss and decided to defer once again. The Steelers defense answered the bell this time and William Gay clearly had put the Ravens game behind him quickly by defending two passes on the first two Bengals drives. This of course would not be the only impact Gay would make in the game.
Right guard Ramon Foster had an up and down game as he was allowing some early penetration in the game. Enough that I noted it. The offensive line breakdown will be interesting to do this week as there will be quite a few demerits to hand out.
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians did a great job of mixing in the bubble screens and a few end-arounds to Mike Wallace to attempt to slow down the Bengals good run defense. On one of the early screen plays, Maurkice Pouncey had an excellent cut block that was very noticeable.
The Steelers first touchdown featured Ben Roethlisberger doing what he does. The pump fake and ability to dodge two Bengals led to a shift outside the pocket where he hit Jerricho Cotchery for the score while on the run. The replay shows that Roethlisberger still had a foot behind the line of scrimmage so that should quiet the talk of an illegal forward pass on the play. There is not a quarterback in the league that can extend a play like Roethlisberger and although it leads to a few sacks every now and again, he makes enough big plays like that one to warrant it.
Cotchery almost had a second touchdown on the Steelers second drive as he sat down in the soft area of the Bengals defense. Roethlisberger obviously thought he was going to continue the route and whizzed it just out of reach of the wide open Cotchery. Hard to blame either on this as it is likely a result of not playing together long and not being on the same page. Luckily this did not kill the drive as the Steelers scored a few plays later.
Talk about violent hits? I am not sure how Heath Miller held onto the ball at the two after a questionable hit by Reggie Nelson. I am not ready to call it illegal until I can get a good still frame from the play, but you could clearly see the neck of Miller slam back. Great catch and I bet he is very sore today.
On the Rashard Mendenhall first touchdown run, it was made possible by Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu even though Kemoeatu lost the early battle against Pat Sims after the snap. Mendenhall slammed it up the backside of Kemoeatu and it helped power him back forward to take care of Sims. We are seeing Mendenhall slam the ball inside more now instead of bouncing everything outside and that is good to see.
On the Bengals first long touchdown to rookie A.J. Green it almost looks like Troy Polamalu is almost certain Ryan Clark will make a play on the ball. Neither of them elevated though and it ended up being an uncontested catch by Green for the most part. Green did come down awkwardly with a straight right leg that jammed his knee and that injury eventually forced him from the game after a one-catch day.
The bobbled catch attempt by Miller that led to the interception by Leon Hall is just one of those freak things that happens from time to time. Miller might have been a little groggy still from the early hit on him. At least the defense held the Bengals to a field goal on the play, but it still let them right back in the game just the same.
Jason Worilds did not have a big game in just his second start, but it was not God awful either. I stated on Twitter before the game that I thought the Bengals would use an extra tackle on an unbalanced line because of only having two tight ends active for the game. Worilds caught the brunt of this a few times, but at least was able to keep his feet most of the time. He also was caught inside by a wide receiver crack back on an end around. He needs to show better awareness to these things going forward. He did finish with a couple of tackles and a few pressures that included a quarterback hit. He also held the point of attack nicely on a few runs. He is a long way away from where he needs to be, but at least he is on the field contributing now.
On the other side, James Harrison was in a day long battle with tackle Andrew Whitworth. Like Worilds, he had his ups and downs, but managed a few pressures. He stunted quite a bit inside where he seemed to have his most success. In defense of both Worilds and Harrison, there were a few holds not called. This happens every game and while I am not crying about it, they were pretty obvious.
Polamalu made several plays against the run in the first half and showed his excellent closing speed. He gave Andrew Hawkins a helicopter ride with one hit that is making all of the highlight films this morning. His day included 2 thrown for loss tackles and a nice defense of a pass. On the flip side he was ran away from by Hawkins on a route out to the left on the Bengals first touchdown drive.
Roethlisberger got away with forcing one to Antonio Brown on the first play of the Steelers last drive before halftime, but it did not deter him from staying locked in on Brown who made some tremendous grabs on that drive. Brown chipped in 4 of his 5 catches on that drive for 74 yards and 2 of those 4 converted third downs.
Later in that same drive the touchdown pass to Cotchery was nullified by a blocking down-field penalty on Miller. It was the right call and Miller was just doing what he was supposed to do on the play as he obviously thought the play was going underneath quickly behind him. Hard to fault Miller here, but the drive did end up stalling and the Steelers were forced to settle for a field goal.
The Steelers defensive front certainly did bend, but never totally collapsed. Casey Hampton was pushed off the ball several times, but he did hold ground a few times as well. Ziggy Hood was pretty non existent inside on the afternoon and only cracked the stat sheet with one tackle. The Bengals were certainly power running at both Hood and Worilds most of the afternoon it seemed.
The penalty on Lawrence Timmons for the late hit is pretty questionable and we will see if Timmons ends up being fined for it. We have seen far worse than this year that hasn\'t resulted in a fine, but you just never know.
On the touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Jermaine Gresham, Larry Foote looks frozen and flat-footed just enough that Gresham easily just ran away from him. It was a great executed play as fullback Chris Pressley runs a pattern just flat enough to suck Timmons down and running back Cedric Benson got just enough of Harrison coming off the edge so Dalton can get rid it of the ball just in time. This is a play I would like to see the Steelers run more with Miller, Mendenhall and David Johnson when inside the 5 yard-line. Great call, great execution.
I have broken down the Mendenhall second touchdown and it shows great blocking by Cotchery, Kemoeatu and Miller and great balance by Mendenhall. That counter pike play and the other versions of it will always be the Steelers bread and butter and when executed right, it can produce great results as we have seen several times this year.
Did I mention the bubble screens worked well all day?
Isaac Redman continues to run hard as he has all season long.
The homerun ball to Wallace early in the 4th quarter was worth the shot in my opinion, but the ball obviously got away from Roethlisberger in the wind. It indeed was a feast or famine play only up 7 points and it is easy to second guess this play call considering the conditions and field position at the time. Wallace had separation from Reggie Nelson.
Gay nicely contested a ball intended for Andre Caldwell and Timmons hauled down the deflection for a well needed interception. Gay read the lazily run route well.
Wallace dropped an easy 3rd down pass on the right side that would have given the Steelers a fresh set of downs near mid-field. Wallace was in too much of a hurry to turn up field with it. These little mental errors late in games have been plaguing the Steelers offense all season.
Gay finished putting his stamp on the game as he broke on a ball intended for Jerome Simpson and intercepted it. Lost on the play was Worilds dropping to his spot in zone that might have caused Dalton to hold the ball just a hair longer.
The play action pass to Weslye Saunders on second down with just over 2 minutes left in the game was a great call. Saunders made a fabulous move after the catch to pick up the first down. Even if he does not get it, the clock runs to the 2 minute warning and the Steelers face a much more manageable 3rd and short to put the game away.
Remember me talking about those bubble screens? The final one to Wallace for the first down ended the game.
It was not a great day for the Steelers offensive and defensive lines, but a few of the sacks are on Roethlisberger and I am fine with that. I thought Pouncey and Starks had good games overall, while Marcus Gilbert, Foster and Kemoeatu were shaky at times. We shall see how they score later in the week.
Sure the defense gave up 109 yards rushing, but 44 of it came on the Bengals last two possessions. Not that it is an excuse, but just pointing out that they were not awful early on as up until those drives the Bengals has 20 rushes for 65 yards. Also lost in the win was that they gave up only 279 total net yards. The Bengals did as expected and had Dalton get the ball out quick most of the day and this led to mostly short passes and no sacks for the defense. The two turnovers certainly makes the lack of sacks easy to swallow.
Outside of a few bumps and bruises to Clark and Starks, the Steelers seem like they might be very healthy coming out of the bye with the only question marks being Emmanuel Sanders and LaMarr Woodley. It still would not surprise me if both sat out the Sunday night game against the Chiefs and return for the rematch against the Bengals a week later. The Ravens loss to the Seahawks sure made it a great day in Steeler Nation.